South Side’s little library makes a big impact

Zoe Stratos | opinions editor. Jennifer Dickquist started her little library during the peak of Covid-19 lockdown in May 2020.

by Zoe Stratos | opinions editor

Feb. 17, 2022

Jennifer Dickquist is somewhat of an anonymous celebrity in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood, known to passersby, local tattooers, piercers and the homeless community as “the little library woman.”

During the peak of Covid-19 lockdown in May 2020, Dickquist noticed her collection of books growing in her S. 13th Street household, taking up four bookshelves, two Ikea carts and piling up in stacks around the house. Soon enough, the constant flow of ‘book of the month’ deliveries was out of control, and she had an idea: Why not start giving them to other people?

“I was reading a lot but wanted to share all the books I was consuming. I have a compromised immune system, so it was hard for me to connect with anyone,” Dickquist said. “I put them on an Ikea cart, put them outside and people started leaving books and exchanging books.”

The 2013 Duquesne University School of Law graduate lives with Hidradentitis, a skin condition that locked her in her house through the height of the pandemic, and being that she is a lawyer, her job was entirely virtual.

During the summer months, Dickquist began adding bottles of hand sanitizer and packages of water next to the cart for anyone who needed it. She also provided supply drops for protesters after George Floyd’s death.

As time went on, Dickquist noticed her cart wouldn’t hold up in the Pittsburgh winter weather. She asked her cousin to make an improved one to place in front of her new house on S. 15th, since she no longer had a porch to shelter it.

“She’s really into home remodeling, so she was like ‘listen, I’ll make you one, just shoot me the money for the materials,’” Dickquist said. “I was thinking she made one of those tiny ones that hold a dozen books, but she got an old kitchen cabinet — it was perfect. She weatherproofed it, and then we moved it over [to 15th].”

With the move, her little library gained more traction because of its close proximity to East Carson Street, and Dickquist continued stocking the library with books and more.

“It was getting a lot more attention, and I started going up to the dollar store to get 20 little tins, boxes of Band-Aids, Tylenol, allergy meds. I fill the little tins and put them out there in little baskets on the inside door, and within two days, they’re gone,” Dickquist said. “I keep making them whenever I have an extra $100 and grab as much stuff as I can.”

Some of the other products, besides books, inside and beside the library include disposable toothbrushes, paper soap, canned goods, gently used clothing and drug test kits. Dickquist also has worked with Prevention Point, a nonprofit that provides health care and support to those using drugs, and they provided her with overdose supplies. Dickquist has a Naloxone sticker inside the library to let passersby know her house is a safe space to stop if they need it.

Among the supplies, you can also find voter registration and absentee ballots during election months, all nonpartisan, and community resources she’s come across during her time as a lawyer — including her own business card.

Even some of the books inside the little library are resources, ranging from self-help books, to finance books, to the Bible to cheesy romance novels. Dickquist makes sure there’s a range of genres for everyone in the neighborhood.

One of the best parts of the little library, according to Dickquist, is her own anonymity. 

“It’s not like I want recognition, I’m not doing anything special and it’s something that doesn’t take any time,” Dickquist said. “I go to the dollar store anyway, but it’s not about that, it’s about having something that makes you smile. I love letting people grab whatever they need.”

Dickquist also mentioned that she hasn’t met anyone who has taken or given to the little library collection, and usually doesn’t make a scene when she sees someone, in case the person wants privacy.

Looking forward into the future, Dickquist plans to expand her little library into a little library and pantry. She also has looked at purchasing a menstrual product dispenser from Do Good. Period. for people struggling to keep up with the expense.

“I get so many people wanting both [books and products], and it’s like, I can supply so much more, but I don’t have enough room. My little baby, she’s riding strong out there, but I’m always thinking of new stuff to add to it,” Dickquist said. “Even if it only helps five people, it’s five more people that don’t have to worry about buying medication, or if they’re just sad, they can get a book.”